Prior to this summer, The Dirty Projectors have never been anything more than a name. I'd file them under "esoteric indie band" whose great accomplishment might be to one day license a song to Apple for an i(whatever) commercial. The band's been on the scene for the better part of this decade, and have released music at a brisk pace, and yet they'd never really been on my radar.
As usual, it took a universally appreciated album for my interest to be piqued, so when I noticed the buzz surrounding Bitte Orca, I deemed it worthy of further examination. To be sure, it isn't a sound with which I usually align my tastes. The instrumentation is very complex and the whole thing is washed over in treble. The timing and delivery throughout seems sort of robotic. Instruments, voices, and beats flare up and disappear intermittently like indicator lights on some giant mainframe.
But the album isn't cold or distant, as my digital metaphors might suggest--on the contrary, it's a very comforting album. It continuously references mid-90s R&B (most irrefutably on single "Stillness Is the Move") and perhaps that's why today's 20-somethings might embrace a sound. It would seem that the cycle of influence has rotated to display the likes TLC, Boys II Men, and En Vogue, the music that today's indie popsters likely absorbed in their formative/come-of-age years. While I didn't own or listen at length to Crazy Sexy Cool, it certainly invokes a simpler time and place for me: 10 years old, living on a military base in northern California, bike rides through crisp eucalyptus-scented air, memorizing finishing moves on Mortal Kombat. That's what TLC reminds me of; go figure.
Perhaps Bitte Orca provides a lens through which I can view those years, relative to where my tastes lie now. Even in the bizarre video for "Stillness Is the Move", there exists an underlying atmosphere of the referenced era, via the choreography and the camera work. It's all just been transposed; viewed through a late-oughts Brooklyn indie spectrum. And that statement could be applied to most of the record.
Musically, the band's strengths lie in arrangements and vocals. Dave Longstreth's is a supremely talented vocalist with a knack for seamlessly whipping a precise falsetto into a throaty blurt. And much praise must be doled to Angel Deradoorian, who's vocals would impress any 90s hip hop princess. The instrumental complexity is a challenge at times, admittedly. But overall, it's an exciting album and one that I wouldn't have pegged as personally satisfying upon first listen. No surprise that the young journalists of my generation are championing Bitte Orca as an album of the year candidate.
Here's the video for "Stillness Is the Move":